Tis the season for iffy driving conditions, so stay ahead of the game and follow these tips so you can stay safe in the winter.
DO: Be prepared for anything
While you can’t control the weather, you can control how prepared you are for it. This doesn’t just mean putting on winter tires and putting the ice scraper in your console, it means ensuring your entire emergency kit is up to date. Do you have an extra blanket so you can stay warm while you wait for roadside assistance? How about some water and a first aid kit, or flashlight or whistle? There’s no such thing as being over prepared.
DON’T: Forget your winter tires
Winter tires are specifically engineered to function best in the cold. The rubber is softer than regular tires, which makes them great for finding grip in snow and slush, but not so great for warmer temperatures. Driving on winter tires before it starts getting cold will only wear down the tread, and the softness of the rubber can make them a little less responsive than regular tires in warmer weather. It’s better to wait until the weather calls for them, so you know they’ll be in great shape for when you need them most.
DO: Drive slow and smooth
This might seem like the most obvious tip on this list, but it’s also the most important. Slow and steady wins the race, and you’ll decrease your chances of getting stuck if you make fewer full stops. Start braking earlier than you would in summer conditions. It’ll be safer for you and the drivers behind you, who will see your brake lights and have more warning that there’s a reason to slow down up ahead.
DON’T: Be afraid to use your hazards
When you’re on the road, safety is paramount. In tricky weather conditions, it’s important that you lower your speed, but it’s also important that you don’t end up going so slow that you become the hazard. It’s all about striking the right balance. If the flow of traffic forces you to slow down significantly, put your hazards on so the drivers behind you can be on alert, especially in low visibility.
DO: Check the conditions online
Checking the weather before you leave is essential, not just so you know what you’re in for, but also so you can plan your route and don’t get caught off guard by detours or road closures. Many major highways have cameras that livestream online, so you can see what the conditions actually look like on the ground, not just guess based on the weather report. 511on.ca is a great resource for checking the major highways in Ontario.
DON’T: Change your route without telling someone
If you do end up having to take a detour, or decide mid-trip to take a different route, be sure to send a quick text to a loved one – not while driving of course!. This is especially vital if you’re taking that different route to avoid traffic, because less traffic also means fewer people to help you out in a pinch. You should also tell them how long you expect it to take, so if you end up stranded and without service on a side road, they’ll be able to call assistance for you.
DO: Double check your lights
You may have heard the old wives’ tale that in Russia you can get a ticket for having a dirty car. While it sounds ridiculous at first glance, the actual driving law is more concerned with making sure your lights and license plate are clean, which makes a lot more sense. Visibility is at its worst in the winter, which makes signaling more important than ever. Before your next journey, double check that your lights are unobstructed, and that they’re all working.
DON’T: Use cruise control
Cruise control is great for maintaining a safe speed on a long stretch of road in ideal conditions, but it can be dangerous in winter. In the winter especially, you need to be ready to react at a moment’s notice, which means being in full control of your vehicle’s acceleration. Even if you have adaptive cruise control, it’s still not meant for the extreme weather that can occur in the winter months, so it’s best to leave it off entirely.
DO: Steer into a skid
It sounds counterproductive, but you’re more likely to regain control of your car if you take your foot off the gas and steer slightly towards the direction you’re skidding. Your car is more likely to regain its grip on the road if the wheels are pointing in the same direction that the car is moving. Once you feel your wheels start rolling properly again, then you can steer yourself back on track.
DON'T: Try to counter-steer right away
More to that point, if you try to steer away from the skid right away, it will only lock your wheels up even more. Think of it as trying to adapt to a new situation instead of fighting it. Correcting your steering slowly and steadily, contrary to how unnatural it might feel in the moment, will stop the skid faster and keep you from launching into a new one.
We want everyone to drive well and stay safe but even when you do everything right, car accidents can still happen, especially in bad conditions. The last step to ensuring you’re prepared for driving this winter is to know who to call if the worst does happen. If you or someone you love has been seriously injured in a car accident, call Helping Hand at 1-888-288-HURT.